The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Armed protesters alleging voter fraud surrounded the home of Michigan’s secretary of state

Michigan state officials decried protesters who gathered outside Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's home, accusing the group of “terrorizing” her family. (Paul Sancya/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson had just finished wrapping string lights around her home’s portico on Saturday evening and was about to watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with her 4-year-old son when a crowd of protesters marched up carrying American flags and guns.

About two dozen protesters chanted “Stop the Steal” and accused Benson, a Democrat and Michigan’s chief election officer, of ignoring widespread voter fraud — an echo of President Trump’s continued unfounded claims as he seeks to overturn the results of the election that President-elect Joe Biden won.

“She’s decided to completely ignore all of the credible, credible, fraudulent evidence that has been continually pointed out,” demonstrator Genevieve Peters said of Benson, as she live-streamed the protest in Detroit on Facebook. “We’re out here in front of the secretary of state’s house and we want her to know we will continue to be here.”

Although the group dispersed with no arrests when police responded just before 10 p.m. Saturday, Michigan state officials accused the group of “terrorizing” Benson’s family.

“They shouted baseless conspiracy theories about the election, and in videos uploaded to social media, at least one individual could be heard shouting ‘you’re murderers’ within earshot of her child’s bedroom,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy (D) said in a joint statement on Sunday. “This mob-like behavior is an affront to basic morality and decency.”

They added that “terrorizing children and families at their own homes is not activism.”

Vitriolic rhetoric has led bipartisan leaders to warn that Trump’s baseless attacks on the election are endangering election officials’ lives. Multiple Michigan officials have reported being threatened and harassed over the election results, as have officials in Georgia, Arizona, Vermont, Kentucky, Minnesota and Colorado.

Since Nov. 4, President Trump has repeatedly claimed his election loss as a result of massive fraud. The following is a roundup of his claims. (Video: The Washington Post)

Election officials warn Trump’s escalating attacks on voting are putting their staffs at risk

Benson also tied the Saturday protest to ongoing efforts by Trump’s supporters to undermine the election since polls closed on Election Day. On Nov. 4, election challengers shouted “Stop the count” inside a Detroit vote-counting center. About two weeks later, GOP appointees on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially refused to certify election results in the Detroit area, but later reversed course and formalized Biden’s victory.

Trump and his campaign have also challenged the election results in Michigan, calling on a discredited witness who went viral for her strange testimony on alleged election fraud, which she presented without evidence, in front of a state House panel.

Trump campaign’s star witness in Michigan was deemed ‘not credible.’ Then, her loud testimony went viral.

“Through blatantly false press releases, purely political legislative hearings, bogus legal claims and so called ‘affidavits’ that fail to allege any clear or cogent evidence of wrongdoing, those unhappy with the results of this election have perpetuated an unprecedented, dangerous, egregious campaign to erode the public’s confidence in the results of one of the most secure, accessible and transparent elections in our state’s history,” Benson said in a statement Sunday.

Benson is far from the only elected official who has been targeted this year by protesters at their residences.

People displeased with the coronavirus restrictions put in place by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) gathered in front of her Lansing home in April. Protesters opposing police violence against Black men this summer targeted mayors at their homes in Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Chicago; Seattle, and St. Louis.

Armed protesters also flooded the Michigan Capitol in April to demand legislators put an end to a stay-at-home order in the state. The state’s Republican lawmakers complied, but Whitmer extended restrictions with executive orders anyway.

Public officials, including Benson on Sunday, have largely defended the right to protest while opposing demonstrations that target elected leaders at their homes.

“A line is crossed when gatherings are done with the primary purpose of intimidation of public officials who are carrying out the oath of office they solemnly took,” Benson said.

But Benson also said Saturday’s protest wouldn’t lead her to abandon her responsibility to defend the election results.

“Through threats of violence, intimidation, and bullying, the armed people outside my home and their political allies seek to undermine and silence the will and voices of every voter in this state, no matter who they voted for,” Benson said. “But their efforts won’t carry the day.”

She called Michigan’s election results “unequivocal” and said she would defend the votes of 5.5 million Michigan citizens. With 2,804,040 votes, Biden won 50.62 percent of the vote in Michigan, surpassing Trump by more than 154,000 votes. The state’s results were certified on Nov. 23.

“The will of the people is clear,” she said. “And I will stand up every day in my job for all voters, even the votes of the protesters who banded together outside my home.”